The Water Journey: How Water Is Involved in the Production of Goods and Services

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Water isn’t just essential for our life on this planet. It is also integral to the production processes for our daily goods and resources.

Water isn’t just essential for our life on this planet. It is also integral to the production processes for our daily goods and resources. Over 500 trillion liters of water are consumed worldwide each year. More than 70% of this is used on agricultural production and around 15% is consumed in industry.

With the world facing a potential global shortage of water by 2050, we need to look at ways of using this vital resource more sustainably. Here is a breakdown of how water is used commercially at present, along with suggestions for improving the situation.  

The Water Footprint – What Is It?  

The overall consumption of global water supplies is referred to as the water footprint. This is the measure of freshwater used both directly (consumed for drinking, cleaning, etc. by households or organizations) and indirectly (water used to produce goods, energy, transport, etc.). Indirect use is sometimes referred to as ‘Hidden Water’ or ‘Virtual Water’.  

The water footprint can be calculated in a number of ways to show how much water is used by individuals, countries, commercial sectors and even individual businesses. It consists of three components: 

  • Green Water Footprint– the amount of rainwater used (consumed or evaporated). Particularly high in agricultural production.  
  • Blue Water Footprint– the amount of freshwater (surface water or groundwater) used.  
  • Grey Water Footprint– amount of freshwater needed to dilute pollutants in order to meet water standards. Common in industries such as fashion and fuel.  

Water Use in the Production of Food and Drink  

Agriculture is sometimes called “the thirstiest industry” because of the amount of water it consumes. 70% of global freshwater consumption is down to agricultural production, rising to over 90% in South Asia.  

Water is used for many things in the agricultural production process, including irrigation for crop growth and animal feed, pesticide/fertilizer applications, machinery used in processing and cooling techniques, and goods transportation. Animal products (meat and dairy) are generally more water-intensive to produce.  

Water Footprints for Individual Products Include: 

  • Coffee – around 18,900 liters per kilogram produced 
  • Beef – 15,400L per kg 
  • Eggs – 3,200L per kg 
  • Vegetables – 320L per kg 

Water Use in the Production of Material Goods 

Water is also used in the production processes for all industrial goods, from vehicles to small toys. Industries such as fashion and computer technology have a large water footprint. Every step of the process involves consumption of water, including operation of machinery to source raw materials such as metals and plastics, machinery to assemble goods, irrigation to grow materials (e.g. cotton for clothing), dyeing materials to produce goods such as clothing, diluting wastewater produced so that it doesn’t pollute waterways, and finally transportation.  

Water Footprints For Products Include: 

  • 62,000 – 100,000L for a single car 
  • 14,500L for a single smartphone  
  • 9,500L for one pair of jeans  

Water Used in Energy Production  

Homes and businesses worldwide are powered by energy sources such as gas and electricity but what is not commonly known is that it takes a substantial amount of water to generate this power. It takes water to extract and refine raw fuels such as coal, oil and natural gas. Water is then used for cooling steam in thermoelectric power plants and for generating transportation fuels such as oil, natural gas and biofuels.  

In the US alone, over 600 billion liters of water per day are used for thermoelectric plants and over 5 billion liters of water are consumed daily for petroleum products such as gasoline.   

How Can this be Improved?  

We need to take immediate action to avert the impending water crisis. We can do this by switching to more sustainable ways of using water supplies. For example, this could be through: 

  • More water-efficient agricultural and industrial practices. Examples include hydroponic farming and waterless textile dyeing
  • Lifestyle changes at consumer level, e.g. buying more recycled or second-hand products, lowering food waste, significantly decreasing meat consumption or switching to a vegetarian or vegan diet,…
  • Making more use of smart technology and water recycling systems to reduce the amount of freshwater used.  

Water Experts provide tailored advice and guidance to businesses so that they can become more water-efficient. In addition to services such as water audits, BOSAQ also supplies the latest in sustainable drinking water technology such as our range of SolarAQ systems.  

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